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It happened that Olivier was the paramour of Vivien Leigh, who was finishing Gone with the Wind. She quickly began to badger Selznick for the role of the second Mrs. de Winter. She made a screen test with Olivier and was, Selznick noted, "terrible." After she and Olivier returned to London in mid-summer, she made another test there and air-expressed it to Selznick.
Selznick wanted Hitchcock's former protégé from England, Nova Pilbeam, for the part. Hitchcock, who preferred an American star, finally talked Selznick out of it. Hitchcock, John Cromwell and Anthony Mann were directing tests of about 30 other actresses, with contract actor Alan Marshall standing in as de Winter. Some were impressive, particularly established stars Margaret Sullavan and Loretta Young, and a very young New York actress, Anne Baxter. George Cukor suggested Joan Fontaine, whose previous film roles had been unimpressive, and she made several tests.
Selznick eventually decided that he wanted Fontaine's sister, Olivia de Havilland, for the role, but when de Havilland learned that Fontaine was being considered for the part, she refused to be tested.
By mid-August, the candidates had been narrowed to Sullavan, Hitchcock's choice; Fontaine, Selznick's choice; and Baxter, the staff's popular favorite. Selznick finally eliminated Sullavan with the line, "Imagine Margaret Sullavan being pushed around by Mrs. Danvers right up to the point of suicide!" Baxter was dismissed as being too young and too difficult to photograph. Over the Labor Day weekend, against the advice of almost everyone, Selznick decided to use Fontaine.
For the role of Mrs. Danvers, the choice was Judith Anderson, a haughty and demanding stage actress from Australia. The supporting cast could hardly be better. It is difficult to imagine anybody but George Sanders as Favell, the charming, lip-curling scoundrel. There is also the unforgettable Florence Bates as Mrs. Van Hopper, and such sturdy Britishers as Nigel Bruce, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith and Leo G. Carroll.
During this time, contract cinematographer Harry Stradling Sr., ASC had started Intermezzo for Selznick. The producer was displeased with the close-ups of his new star from Sweden, Ingrid Bergman, and replaced Stradling with Gregg Toland, ASC. After being assigned to Rebecca, Stradling sent Selznick a teletype asking to be released from his contract because "with the mental strain of wondering whether I was satisfying you and with thoughts of being taken off the picture, I honestly don't feel I could do justice to you and your organization in making Rebecca."
Selznick ordered Ginsberg to get Toland, whom he felt would be "worth his weight in gold to Rebecca. I will be agreeable to paying a very fancy bonus for having him on the picture. I don't feel there is any other cameraman in town comparable with him for this job and while there may be other men of equal ability, they would take twice as long to get the same result."
Toland wasn't available, but his long-time mentor, George Barnes, ASC, was. He brought to the picture a wealth of artistry and experience that assured a first-rate job and he worked fast.
The sets for Gone with the Wind were still in use when construction began on the 40 settings Lyle Wheeler designed for Rebecca. As soon as a GWTW set was struck, a Rebecca set grew in its place. Twenty-five were interiors, mostly of Manderley; others included the boathouse, the coroner's courtroom, the doctor's office and an inn. Hitchcock and Selznick were in agreement that Manderley was the co-star of the show. Hitchcock knew how he wanted the great house to appear, and had several historic English mansions photographed, but Selznick didn't like them. It was left to Wheeler to create the epitome of settings for Gothic romance, with a cavernous main hall, ornate rooms, gigantic fireplaces, towering staircases, high doors and massive chandeliers.
On September 1, 1939, the German Army invaded Poland. England declared war on September 3. Hitchcock and his predominantly British players were tormented by fears about their families and friends. On September 8, in an atmosphere of gloom and anxiety, principal photography of Rebecca commenced. Production was budgeted for 36 days, but in two weeks the company was five days behind schedule.
Hitchcock, who now championed Fontaine, spent a lot of time coaching her. Already lacking self-confidence, she was particularly nervous because Olivier wanted to get rid of her. A product more of stage than screen, Olivier was driving both Hitchcock and Selznick to distraction with his habit of alternately slowing down action to make his role more showy, and then speaking very rapidly.
Hitchcock's modus operandi of "cutting in the camera" by pre-planning his shots meticulously and shooting no coverage from other angles was especially galling to Selznick. This, he told the director, was the most important of the "things about your method of shooting which I think you simply must correct." Hitchcock was horrified when he learned that assistant director Eric Stacey and continuity supervisor Lydia Schiller were reporting to Selznick everything that happened on the set. He made their lives miserable for the duration.
Elaborate special photographic effects played an important role in getting Manderley onto the screen. According to the action and mood of the moment, it had to be perceived variously as warm and friendly, cold and forbidding, lively and in ruins. It would be shown by day, by night, in rain, mist and in flames. Hitchcock, Wheeler, production manager Ray Klune and special effects director Jack Cosgrove, ASC wanted to film the exteriors by utilizing large miniatures in two different scales. Matching portions of the exterior, such as the entrance, would be built full-scale. It was difficult to convince Selznick to use miniatures, because he feared that they would look fake. Hitchcock, a master at staging complex miniature scenes, was confident the method would work.
The first miniature of Manderley, the mansion with adjacent landscaping and a sky-backing, almost filled a big, barnlike stage behind the administration building. A vestige of the silent films, the stage had never been soundproofed and was utilized mostly for special effects work. This model was used for close views, such as when a light is seen moving through the rooms and during the climactic fire, but there was not enough room on the stage to allow full shots of the building.
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